Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
You may have noticed that the Church’s way of preparing for Christmas is quite different from what we might see in the rest of society. As an example, to date our readings have made no mention of the baby Jesus—and won’t—until Christmas Eve. That’s when our Christmas season begins. Until then, we remain in this penitential season called Advent.
Today we hear about John the Baptist and the crowds who gather around him. They’re also preparing for the coming of Christ, not the vulnerability of an infant, but in the strength of a fully grown man. Nevertheless, their preparation can guide ours. And so, I’d like to consider three aspects of their preparation.
The first aspect is a posture of discernment. As we heard, the crowds asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?” It’s the perfect question. Rather than treating their preparation like some sort of self-help project or private enterprise where they might define the parameters of what ought to be done; from the outset, they’re in dialogue with someone outside of themselves. They’re open to guidance from a specialist (John).
There’s an implicit humility in that question. When asking, “What should we do,” there’s an underlying recognition that, “We don’t know what is necessary (to prepare for the Savior). We need help. We need someone to guide us.
It’s also a recognition that: not just anything needs to be done; but the right things must be done. Being a busy-body isn’t the way. Busy-bodies can do many things. But not necessarily the right things.
A temptation we can have in our day is to prepare for Christmas by keeping busy. But if what we do are not the right things, then we allow our time to be consumed by distractions that ultimately fail to prepare us for Jesus.
Another temptation is to prepare for Christmas the same way that we’ve always done it. No more; no less. Don't get me wrong; there is a certain beauty to respecting family traditions and preserving annual rituals. But that question of “What should we do?” may open the door to even new blessings that may have surfaced only recently.
And it may open our eyes to situations, people, and opportunities we may have not have been ready to engage with before, especially in the areas of charity and community service: care for the poor, the elderly, and infirm; care for our own family members and other neighbors.
Which leads in to a second aspect: namely cultivating a habit of service with integrity. When asked, “What should we do,” by the crowds, John the Baptist replied:
“Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” In short, John was telling them that their means of preparation was already within their grasp. He reminded them that the underprivileged were already in their midst—they had simply to care for them. He was revealing to them the connection between preparing for Christ and caring for one's neighbor. Their preparation for the Savior could not be in isolation from others. Their preparation ought to be a blessing for others.
I’m so very proud of our many parishioners who supported our Angel Tree program this year. You’ve made a difference in the lives of many children and families. Our parish is giving a total of 220 gifts to three homes and shelters: the Ma’ili Land Transitional Housing Shelter, the Mary Jane Home, and PACT, which stands for Parents and Children Together. Our preparation for Christmas will be a blessing for others. Thank you for your generosity.
To tax collectors and soldiers, he said to them respectively: “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed,” and “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”
In short, John was simply calling for honesty in one's profession: to put in an honest day's effort for an honest day's pay; and not to abuse one's authority.
That's a good reminder for each of us to have integrity in what we do. Many people work behind the scenes without explicit oversight where integrity is of utmost importance. As a few examples:
Those in the service industry can truly be courteous to their guests from the heart. They also may clean and do chores when no one's around; they can make sure to clean things thoroughly, even when no one is looking. Those in the food industry can make sure their food is safe to eat and prepared cleanly and responsibly, with minimum waste. Those in the construction industry can charge only for what is built or installed, and not charge for wasted materials. Those who teach can be responsible and thoughtful in their lesson planning and be considerate to the needs of their students, and respectful to parents. Those in leadership and management can be open in their expectations and responsible with the resources entrusted to them. The list goes on.
The final aspect is a disposition of awareness. As we heard in our gospel, the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.
Our disposition ought to be similar. Our hearts ought to be filled with expectation for Christ. We ought often to ask in our hearts often whether Christ is present among us—he is, though we might not always be mindful of him. He’s here in our conversations, our encounters, discussions, struggles, joys, and everything; but cultivating a habit of recognizing him requires deliberately recognizing his presence at signal times.
As an example, Jesus is truly present among us in the Eucharist at every Mass. But if I don’t acknowledge his real presence in the Eucharist, how can I recognize his presence in more ambiguous situations, when he’s hidden behind the veil of the faces of the poor, the sick, the lonely, the broken-hearted and so on.
Now, regarding the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, there’s a staggering statistic from a Pew Research Center study, that reports that nearly 7 out of 10 self-described Catholics do not believe in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. That means that only about a third of self-described Catholics believe that the bread and wine transform into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. That’s a tragic situation, especially since the Church’s teaching on this has never changed in nearly 2000 years, and as Catholics, we’re required to believe it.
Practicing that habit of being aware of Christ’s real presence in the Holy Eucharist and his presence throughout our days goes together. An increase in one leads to an increase in the other.
Through the grace of this Mass, may we increasingly be disposed to discern what it is that we should do in these Advent and Christmas seasons; and may what we do lead us to acknowledging and rejoicing in Christ’s real presence always.